Being a Young Families Ambassador
At The Parenting Network, we love working alongside parents to help us shape our service and to make sure we support families in the best way possible. We talk a lot about empowering parents; giving them social confidence and autonomy to make positive parenting choices. We work hard to offer exciting and meaningful play and learning opportunities for the babies, to help parents understand infant development and to support their little ones to reach their full potential. To help us get this right, we give parents the chance to speak up and bring about positive change. Volunteer Ambassadors play a huge part in this, and it is time for us to introduce you to our Young Families Ambassador, Niah.
Tell us a little about your family…
Well. I suppose it all started with me meeting Drew at my Christmas staff party in Dec 2016. He was the chef at the restaurant where it was held. We had briefly met a few times beforehand and knew each other through mutual friends, but this time we really got talking. Just a short 6 months later I fell pregnant with our gorgeous first born, Theo. It was all a bit of a shock. I was 17 and in my first year at college. I was 18 when Theo was born. Two years later our lovely Indy came along to join the family. So there are four of us, a cat, a leopard gecko and two fish.
What has being a young mum meant for you?
To put it bluntly – it has completely changed my life. I was very young when I first fell pregnant, in the midst of doing 3 A-Levels and a BTEC. I sat my A-Level exams when Theo was just 8 weeks old and surprisingly came out with good results. My aspiration to become a midwife has been put on hold; my whole life has been flipped upside down. But not in a bad way. Being a young mum is the most incredible thing. It is so tough. It is so challenging. I like to think of it like I get to spend more years with my best friends – my children. My life is definitely not over. I’m just taking a different path and I absolutely love it. I’m a different person than I was three years ago. I would never have thought at the age of 20 I would have had brought a family home and have two children, but it’s just the way life pans out. I’m a strong believer of everything happens for a reason and this is obviously how my life is meant to be.
Young parents often talk about feeling judged. What is your experience with this?
There has always been a stigma around young parents. We are not mature enough. We are just kids ourselves. We will get our parents to raise our babies whilst we are out partying and gallivanting. I haven’t personally come across any direct judgement. However, at playgroups I sometimes feel out of place, and can feel that people are talking about the fact that I’m so young. I used to feel paranoid just walking down the road, feeling that people would be talking about me. I think the reality is that whatever the age of the mum, we are all learning how to become mothers. The more mums I meet, the more it seems that we all feel judged for one thing or another. We are all trying our absolute hardest to do right by our children and build a life and future for them. Being young doesn’t make me any better, and certainly not any worse, at finding my way in motherhood.
How have friendships changed for you?
Haha. This is a tricky one. I fell pregnant at an awkward age. All of my friends were turning 18 so they were able to go out clubbing and drinking. We were all at college, so girls holidays were arranged. We were all thinking about uni applications and open days. It was such a crazy and exciting time in our lives; to throw a baby into the mix wasn’t for everyone. I don’t blame anyone for not wanting to stick around when Theo was born. They had their own lives to get on with, their own worries and problems to solve. I don’t speak to many of my school and college friends. I’m not mad at them. Friendship is a two way thing. Maybe I pushed them out and didn’t make an effort like I should have. Maybe I was jealous that they got to do whatever they liked, while I was pregnant and miserable. However, I now have the most amazing set of friends and the best support network. I have found that some of the best friendships when becoming a parent are friends who also have kids. They understand what you’re going through. They relate to the difficulties and emotions of parenthood. I do miss many of my old friends. Part of me still gets jealous when I see them all together having the best time, and I’m sat at home after being awake for 16 hours staring at the never ending pile of washing. But as I said, everything happens for a reason. The friendships I have gained by becoming a mum are plenty, including my very special friendships with my boys.
Besides your beautiful children, what else have you gained from motherhood?
Just basic life skills that I never knew I didn’t have! I have a mortgage and I pay bills and deal with boring adult life fiascos on a day to day basis. I know how to do a wash – it sounds so simple but before becoming a mum I didn’t ever do any washing (sorry mum)! I’ve become a peer supporter for The Breastfeeding Network, which is obviously something I wouldn’t and couldn’t have ever done without becoming a mum. Learning to support others at a, sometimes, really challenging time in their parenting journey has been really special for me. Learning to (mostly) love breastfeeding myself, and being able to help others achieve their breastfeeding goals is beyond fulfilling. On top of this, I’ve gained a deep understanding of the true value of life. My children are my absolute world and being a parent makes you realise just how precious life is and how you need to treasure every single moment because time flies by scarily fast.
Any words of advice to other young parents?
Don’t be scared. Despite what anyone says, you can do it. Finding out you’re pregnant at a young age is such a daunting experience and only those that have gone through it themselves will ever be able to relate. Stand up for yourself. As you’re young, many family members, friends, strangers will try to give you “advice” on how to parent. They may think that because you are young you don’t know what you’re doing (which may be true, but this is also true for all new parents). You don’t have to do anything that you don’t want to. They are YOUR children and if you learn to stand up for yourself and shrug off any unwanted advice, you’ll be a much happier parent.
Talk to people about your feelings. Where there is a stigma for young parents, you may feel like you don’t want to speak out when you’re feeling low, angry, or anxious. You might assume that people may think you’re not coping because of your age and use that against you. But it is fine to feel like you might not be coping. Talking about how you’re feeling to a family member, trusted friend, or health care professional is the most important thing and will help you keep your feet on the ground at a really overwhelming time. It is so hard becoming a parent; it is completely life changing, daunting, frustrating. It is also an amazing, unforgettable and extremely precious time in your life. There are so many emotions going on all at once, and with the added stress of crazy hormones for mums, it really can feel like too much. I’ve definitely felt like that many, many times but I just keep talking. I say that my children drive me mad, I say that some days I just want to cry all day because I’m so exhausted. I say that I am so desperate for a day without the kids just to sit alone and do absolutely nothing. It doesn’t make me a bad mum, no one thinks any less of me. It is normal to find it hard – but don’t bottle it up. By talking about it, I gain back some control over everything that is going on inside my head, and I can move on and outweigh the bad days with many more good days. Sharing the mental load is a huge step towards solving it. You don’t need to impress anyone. You and your children are the most important, as long as you’re healthy, safe and loved – that’s all that matters.
How did you first hear about the Young Families Project?
The lovely Shelly introduced me to the project over a coffee when my youngest, Indy, was just 3 weeks old. We had met a couple of years previously, before I had Theo, through my employer. She explained the plan for the project, and ran some ideas past me in terms of antenatal and postnatal groups. It was great to think that young parents were going to have this support coming up. I had really wished for something like this while I was pregnant, so was keen to get on board and get involved.
As a Young Families Ambassador, what do you hope for the future of the Young Families Project?
I hope that as many young mums as possible get the support and opportunity to come to the groups. I hope that we can expand the group facilities and age range to incorporate toddlers in a bigger setting – Shelly has some plans coming up and I look forward to being part of this.
I hope that the project becomes as important to every other young mum that it has been to me. A safe place, a chance to relax and unwind as well as a place to meet lots more new mums and babies. I hope the project helps to reduce the stigma around young mums and continues to make young mums feel empowered and “normal” – whatever that may mean.
Stay and play groups run on Wednesday and Friday mornings in Portsmouth Guildhall, including free baby massage for young families on Friday mornings. Pregnancy support runs throughout the week, with one-to-one and support groups on Wednesday and Friday afternoons.
If you are a young parent, teen-25years old, come along, or get in touch with Shelly email@example.com.